My name is Mary Button and I’m an artist and theologian based in Memphis, TN. I studied art as an undergraduate and after several years of making work I realized the depth of my interest in religion and decided to pursue that interest with further academic study. While in seminary I started making work more devotional in nature, like my Stations of Cross projects. After graduation I received a call to serve First Congregational Church in Memphis to serve as their Minister of Visual Art. I maintain a large community art studio at the church where I work with church members and community members to make art for our sanctuary. I also teach ethics and philosophy at a community college.
How did you get involved with Hidden Perspectives?
One of the organizers approached me about displaying my Stations of the Cross for LGBT Equality which were commissioned by Believe Out Loud as well as showcased by Kittredge Cherry on her Jesus in Love blog. I imagine they saw the work through one of those incredibly important resources here in the States.
Why do you think projects like Hidden Perspectives are important?
I absolutely think projects like Hidden Perspective are important! As an artist who makes socially conscious artwork I absolutely love attending events like Hidden Perspectives, it’s so important to make connections with other like-minded and creative people.
Do you believe LGBTQIA and the Bible should be discussed together (under the same platform)?
I do think that the Bible and LGBTQIA issues should be discussed together. Speaking from my own context, as an American woman in a deeply conservative part of the country, the Bible is so often used as an instrument of not just subjugation, but outright abuse of the LGBTQIA community that it’s vital that an understanding of the Bible as a text that liberates rather than condemns should be more widely articulated.
How will you be involved with the festival on June 1st?
Unfortunately for me, I will be unable to attend the festival. But my Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality will be there!
Each year I try to make a special set of Stations for Holy Week. Last year, I created a set of Stations of the Cross about the revolution in Syria
This year Holy Week coincided with our Supreme Court’s hearings on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that restricts federal marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples regardless of whether or not they are living in a state where same sex marriage is legal. For that reason I was commissioned by the Christian LGBTQ advocacy group to create the Stations for churches to use during Holy Week as a special way for American church communities to meditate, reflect, and engage with the demonstrations that Believe Out Loud and other groups were organizing at the Supreme Court. With each set of stations I create, my goal is for the work to be reproduced and used as widely as possible, so the images were available for free download and projection.
What has been your experience of the interaction between LGBTQIA & Religion?
My experiences of the ways in which religion and LGBTQIA issues intersect are pretty varied. Every church that I have been a member of as an adult – including the church that I currently work at – have been open and affirming churches. The seminary that I attended, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and while the majority of my fellow students and professors support the full inclusion of LGBTQIA people in the church, the official policy of the United Methodist Church does not. This has been incredibly difficult for me to reconcile as I’m deeply grateful for the education I received in a United Methodist school. However, when I think of the many, many members of the LGBTQIA community who are shut out of not just positions in the United Methodist clergy, but also made to feel unwanted or unloved in their churches I feel sick to my stomach.
What are your next projects?
My next project is a writing project. I’m working on a book about the Cane Ridge Revival, a week long revival that happened in 1801 in Kentucky, at the start of the Second Great Awakening. Thousands of people came from all over Kentucky for what was supposed to be a simple communion service and instead it turned into a sort post-Revolutionary War Woodstock. I’ve been fascinated by Cane Ridge for years now and I’m really looking forward to a summer of reading, researching, and writing about it.
(You may have noticed Mary uses the acronym LGBTQIA, which also encompasses those who identify as Queer, Intersex and Asexual).